5 Stars, Historical Romance, KJ Charles, Paranormal Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, Samhain Publishing

Review: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

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Title: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal

Author: KJ Charles

Publisher: Samhain Publishing

Pages/Word Count: 224 Pages

At a Glance: The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a book that deserves every bit of effusiveness aimed its way.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: A story too secret, too terrifying—and too shockingly intimate—for Victorian eyes.

A note to the Editor

Dear Henry,

I have been Simon Feximal’s companion, assistant and chronicler for twenty years now, and during that time my Casebooks of Feximal the Ghost-Hunter have spread the reputation of this most accomplished of ghost-hunters far and wide.

You have asked me often for the tale of our first meeting, and how my association with Feximal came about. I have always declined, because it is a story too private to be truthfully recounted, and a memory too precious to be falsified. But none knows better than I that stories must be told.

So here is it, Henry, a full and accurate account of how I met Simon Feximal, which I shall leave with my solicitor to pass to you after my death.

I dare say it may not be quite what you expect.

Robert Caldwell

September 1914

Dividers

Review: The secret fear of a reader who loves a book enough to write a review of it is not that one can’t effuse enough but that one can’t effuse well enough to do that book justice. KJ Charles’ The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is a book that deserves every bit of effusiveness aimed its way.

Robert Caldwell, journalist, and Simon Feximal, occultist and ghost hunter, were first introduced in a short story called The Caldwell Ghost, back in 2013. It was a story that begged to be expanded into a full length novel and, fittingly, is the chapter that introduces this collection of vignettes which Robert wrote—but not for publication during his and Simon’s lifetime. The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal are the chronicles in which Robert was finally able to include himself as a part of Simon’s life; not as the ghost hunter’s steadfast John Watson but as Simon’s lover, partner, confidante, and, ultimately, his savior and touchstone. And this alone gives the novel its piquant emotional edge.

One of the most immediate items of note in Robert and Simon’s exposé is the glorious way in which Charles weaves storytelling into the plot as not only an imperative of the stigmata that etches itself under Simon’s skin but also as a climactic source of conflict between Simon and Robert, then reinforces it as an ultimate validation of Robert’s place in the world they inhabit together. They are the stories withing the story, the scribe and the inscribed, telling and being the story at once. In Simon’s case, every story must be told for the dead to find peace; he is their page, the voices of the dead the ink, and he is their deliverer. In Robert’s case, the pen is mightier than the sword—he simply needed to fight for his rightful place in Simon’s life through written word, and this collection of chapters is his deliverance. Theirs is an unconventional relationship in a conventional time, and in this novel they have now been woven into the fabric of immortality.

The Victorian Era is notable as the collection’s setting, in that the puritanical climate of the time period weighs significantly against not only Robert and Simon’s relationship, but it also contrasts beautifully against the occult elements of the world in which Robert and Simon live and work together. There’s a built in contradiction of “good vs. evil” in terms of the strict moral codes of the time, no shortage of monsters of the human variety in this novel’s pages either, and then again as much in terms of the practitioners with whom Robert and Simon are sometimes forced to associate—namely in one Dr. Berry, who cloaks himself in righteousness while at the same time playing Atropos to the dead and Judas to his profession.

There’s somewhat of a “through the looking glass” layer to this story as well, in that it’s only with a mirror that the secrets on Simon’s skin can be translated. To the naked eye, Simon’s body is merely covered in an unending series of runes and dead languages from the world beneath the world, a never ending story needing to be written, stories that can only be translated in the backward reflection of the world in a mirror, and it leaves us to wonder what in the otherworld is behind the glass that knows so much more than we on this side of that fragile pane do. This translation throws into even sharper contrast the displacement of the occult in this version of England, and I can’t help but to love whatever Muse visited the author and inspired it.

Each of the chapters in this collection of Robert’s memories offers an emotional payoff: in the erotic, the horrific, the bittersweet, and the layering of each of our heroes as they evolve from their first wanton tryst into two complementary forces who each needs the other in every conceivable (and sometimes, inconceivable) way. This was not a simplistic building of a relationship—there are trials and communication missteps which make our heroes the realistic contrast to all the unreality they face on a day-to-day basis.

From a macabre butterfly obsession to a demented Pied Piper to the very human enemy bent upon destroying our Mr. Caldwell, KJ Charles has mined the depths of imagination to come up with another outstanding novel to add to her body of work. One can only imagine there are more stories Robert Caldwell had to tell, but he saved the best of them for this collection, ensuring the novel’s place as one of the best I’ll read in 2015.

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